Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Yarn Tales Tuesday

Finding Myself in a Pile of Yarn
A look at how crochet can heal

  The last few weeks started out easy, and ended on a stressful note. I took on what was an impossibly simple pattern for my skill level, but had so many problems along the way! Tangled skeins, thunderstorms, too little sleep, power outages, more tangled skeins, my dog had a seizure again, more thunderstorms, more power outages, dead batteries, a wild cat had a litter of kittens in the back of my other half's truck (anybody wanna adopt a kitten?), and one more thunderstorm that knocked out my internet for days... I kept having to stop. Perhaps others would have taken this as a sign, and stuffed the project in a cabinet to be forgotten - but I set my mind to get the first blankets for the World's Biggest Stocking done, and I did it. Why?

  To answer that honestly, I have to do that thing I hate. No, not weaving in ends... That other thing I hate - let you get to know me. If you follow the blog, then you've seen my pets, you know I'm a heavy metal enthusiast, you've read stories about my kids, and you know about my (imaginary?) evil troll. And obviously, crochet is my life. Allow me to fill in some more: I am an Aries. This means I am strong. I am stubborn. I will fight for what I believe is right, and you will only change my mind with solid, provable information. I will also do things I don't really want to do, just to make a point. For example: 

  • I get tired of people telling me what I "need" to do, when it's about something as trivial as my appearance. When my hair was down to my shoulders, I made up my mind that for every time someone told me I needed to cut my hair, I would go six months without doing so. It's now past my waist. Maybe I'll cut some bangs, someday. If I want to...

  • If you tell me I need to take a break, I will start working twice as hard instead, no matter how tired I really am. I decide when I need to take a break.

  • I'm going to tell you a personal story today, even though I don't really want to.

  • I will make twelve blankets for the World's Biggest Stocking, because someone told me I shouldn't make any.

  As for that last one - Don't take that the wrong way. I really do want to make all twelve blankets, if I get them done in time. I just wasn't originally planning on making that many... I'm not in this for the $5,000 contest, even though it would be nice to win. I started the project before that was ever announced. I'm in this because I want to be. Maybe I can't make twelve by June 22 for the contest. But as long as I get them sent in before the Stocking is being assembled, then I'm happy. I know it's more work than I should take on. But I can do it. My bullheadedness took this project too far after being cussed out by my arch enemy, but I am loyal to my decisions. I am committed to this project. 

  I'm not this way just because I don't appreciate advice. I'm not this way because I think I'm smarter than anybody else. I'm not this way because I like to fight. I'm this way because I am confident, and I prefer to make my own decisions.

  However, even this stubborn, strong Aries has faced moments of weakness. If you have followed for long enough, then you may have read the original story of how crochet changed my life, The Crochet is the Way Name. Now, let me tell you about the other way that crochet has helped me:

  Before we begin, let me stress that this is my story. I am a very unique person. I'm not saying anyone with similar problems should follow in my footsteps. But perhaps if you identify with my situation, then maybe you can use what I've done in some way to help yourself. Most people benefit from seeking professional help. I don't. Please don't make any decisions based only on my words. I'm also going to get very personal here. Please respect that, and don't take offense from anything I might say. Just remember: It's my story, about me.

  Now, if you did read my original story, then you know that crochet kept me from becoming a useless lump on a couch after injuries and a debilitating disease. But, there's more to that story. There's the reason why having a purpose matters so much to me... The part I don't want anybody to know... But, it's also the reason why I'm taking this project for the World's Biggest Stocking so personally, and it's stressing me out. I'm a very private person, and I don't really want to do this. But someone else has been trying to convince me to share my story to possibly help others, and I've let myself be influenced... Just this once. So, here it is:

Deep breath...

  Also, let me apologize in advance just in case this post ends up rambling and jumping subjects, with lots of choppy run-on sentences. (It's already looking like it will.) I'm not sure I'll be able to edit any of this once I'm done. This is difficult for me to talk about, even in type. If I read it, I'll probably change my mind about sharing my story and delete it. You're probably just gonna get whatever I spew out this time... I think I'll go back and add to my intro before I'm done, but that's it.

  Okay, I'll open by explaining what I just did. I told you twice that I would get to the story, then didn't do it. I was going to delete what I wrote, but let's leave it there. I'm procrastinating because I don't want to talk about it. And I'm procrastinating some more now. I have stared at the screen for five minutes, made another cup of coffee, changed the album I was listening to, let the dog out, picked at some lint on my chair, vacuumed the chair. decided to also vacuum the carpet, let the dog in, and now I'm staring at the screen again... Four-letter-word it, let's go...

  I battle PTSD (that's Post traumatic stress disorder, in case you don't know). I DON'T suffer from it. I fight it. I'm not afflicted with it, I'm affected by it. And I'm not crazy, like many people think, I'm just different. But I've had to come a long, long way to get here. Crochet helped me.

  I didn't serve in the military. I fought a battle by myself on home soil. As for what I faced, you don't get to know that much. When you live in the past, you relive your past. That's a story I have buried; I refuse to dig it up. But just as we place the dead in the ground and still grieve, you can throw dirt on your troubles, but still choke on the residual dust in the air. I live with PTSD. I live every day of my life trying not to be afraid. Trying to believe in myself, because that's all I've ever really had, and that belief was shattered when my mind was torn to pieces.

  I was already dealing with PTSD before the events that unfold in story of The Crochet is the Way Name. Just as I throw myself into my crochet work, I used to throw myself into automotive work with the same energy. And building computers. And anything else I've ever picked up, like being part of building a whole house from the ground up. I have to stay busy in "the now", or I begin to relive the past again. 

  I never realized what I was doing to mentally heal myself until I sat down with a hook and yarn. The work I used to do was just physically exhausting. I assumed the spent energy was my way of distracting myself. Someone in a support group suggested that it was actually a form of self-harm after finding out that I was still going to work and climbing under cars with a broken tailbone and a concussion... Nope, I don't believe that. It's a form of self-healing for me. My thoughts spin in my head until they create a vortex of energy that has to be expelled before I explode. Physical work used to burn it off. 

  I hardly sleep more than three hour a night. I never work less than twelve hours a day. I'm usually in pain. I feed on it. It fuels me as much as coffee and heavy metal. Bring it on. Doctors tell me I need medication. Why? I don't take pills. I'm not a "hippie nut" (no offense to hippies, that's what people call me), I just don't like taking chemicals that tend to make me sick or turn me into a zombie. I'd rather just stay busy, so I don't have time to think about it. 

  But crochet is so much more than just staying busy, without physically exhausting myself. There's something special that happens when you begin creating those magical loops with a hook and yarn. The feel of the fibers running through your tension hand is smooth and stable, unlike my mind. The fabric that is created with each stitch is useful, unlike parts of my past. And the end result is (usually) gratifying, unlike the results of reliving history. Every stitch shows me that there is brightness and beauty in the world, to contrast the ugly darkness I have lived in.

My hands have been broken and covered in scars;
they show my weakness when they sweat and shake.
My hands can show me how strong they really are
with every beautiful stitch I make.

  And as for having to deal with stressful, knotted, seemingly hopeless skeins of yarn? I spend as much time as necessary to untangle them. Smooth out the kinks. Cut out the bad parts, if needed. Reorganize it. And use it to create something beautiful. Just like my mind. 

  Working on the blankets for the World's Biggest Stocking has caused some effects that I didn't expect: Many people have personally contacted me through email, Facebook, and Google+, to thank me for my work. Most of these people are veterans, or family of vets who deserve my thanks, not the other way around. And almost all of them have shared with me their troubles dealing with PTSD and similar issues. I've never publicly shared my battles before now, so I don't know why I seem to be a magnet for others dealing with the same. Maybe it has something to do with my rant in this Yarn Tales Tuesday post just before I started the project.

   Regardless of why, I'm glad that these people shared their stories with me. Even though these veterans and I don't have PTSD because of the same situations, we share the same symptoms. I can empathize. It's hard to become a functioning part of society again once you've had your mind and spirit (and sometimes body) broken to pieces, then continue to relive it. And although I hate how selfish this sounds, I've used this experience to rebuild myself some more. 

How? Two ways:

  (1) The most selfish part - I have realized that I am better... I see that I have the ability to fix myself. Listening to each of the stories told to me has been a giant step forward. You see, I don't talk to people. Sure, I reply to comments here on the blog; I leave comments on other blogs, too. I've even had a few pleasant conversations with readers on Facebook. But the real me, in real life - My motto is "leave me alone". I enjoy being alone. I don't talk to people. I'm happy by myself. I don't like people getting close to me. I don't have many friends; I don't want many friends. I don't need people to talk to. I talk to my dog a lot, but he rolls his eyes too much and often walks away in the middle of a conversation... He's heard it all before, and I think he's tired of listening. Since beginning this project, I've had more conversations with people (nice ones!) in one month than I've had in the past five years. And I even was able to look a stranger in the eyes, and say "hello", instead of staring at the ground in fear.

He still listens better than most people I know!

  (2) The still-slightly-selfish unselfish part - This experience has led me to devote even more of my time to charities, especially for veterans. What I went through - that's my problem. I deserve a pat on the back for surviving, but only from myself; nobody else owes me anything. The situations that veterans have faced cast my issues aside, because they all either went through it to defend all of us, or to stand up for what's right, or just because their government told them to. I feel like they deserve much more than a pat on the back. Especially because they're often met with turned backs. Although I will respect the privacy of each of them - I'll tell you this much, because I heard the same from more than one person - Many of the vets I spoke to that were facing problems with PTSD were also having trouble getting help, or didn't know how to get help. They didn't contact me to complain about that, though. They opened up about their troubles afterwards, once we had talked for a bit. The first thing each and every one of them contacted me for was to say THANK YOU for my work. I don't deserve the appreciation. THEY are the ones we should all be thanking. So even though I've already said it, I'll say it again. THANK YOU.

  So, you see, they didn't know what they were doing to me when they all opened up about their troubles with PTSD. Because they never could have known that I'm fighting it myself. And although I had a slight moment where the stress got to be too much, and I almost faltered, I realized something else. Each and every one of them said that they were suffering from PTSD, and my crochet made them feel better in some way. They all used the term suffering. I don't suffer. I fight. I want them to fight, too. So, maybe I was given this skill for a reason. To help people realize that they don't have to suffer. 

  That's easier said than done, though. Veteran or not, when you're at your weakest, it can be hard to see the slightest glimmer of strength in yourself. But you have to realize that whatever led you to your weakest point is still something you were strong enough to survive! Finding something productive is what helped me in the end. Not just a job... Something with purpose. When I was a mechanic, it was about fixing things. I was broken, so I wanted to fix everything around me. When I learned to crochet, it was more about creating something new... Something beautiful... Something with a purpose... Because PTSD can make you feel useless... And a productive hobby - even if it's not crochet - makes things that are useful.

  I compare my hobbies to my life. Just as a project gets ripped apart when things go wrong, so can our minds. But just as we return to a crochet project to make it right, we can also recreate the stitches of our lives. They won't always be the same stitches, and you may have to change a pattern to make it work. But in the end, you alter what you need to, or learn to work around it. Sometimes you run into tangles or snags; maybe even a loose thread from time to time. Untie the knots. Smooth out the yarn. Or, let it stay a little loopy sometimes! Repair what you can, or cut out the rest. When you run out of yarn, join more. Keep working. Don't give up on the project. Keep going until you have created what you want it to be. And understand that if you choose to give your creations to anyone, they won't always be appreciated. But these are the risks we must take. Let those projects go, count them as experience, and find someone more deserving for the rest.

  Crochet is special to me, but any creative hobby can help. And although I have seen it happen, you won't often find a six-foot-plus tall ex-marine crocheting flowers. I've also met a Vietnam vet that helped his wife sew quilts. Both of these men didn't care what people thought of their hobbies. They cared that it made them happy. Plus, they both used their skills to donate and help make others happy.

  You don't have to have PTSD to benefit from crochet, and crochet doesn't have to be the skill you benefit from. No matter what the hobby: Make your fabric strong; sand your boards smooth; paint your canvases colorfully; glue your pieces together! Pour yourself into it and take back from it. Feel the positive energy from whatever you produce; let it flow back into you. Let it grow over your troubles. Feed on it. Grow with it. Become it. 

     *And just to let everybody know, my concerns for veterans aren't political. My actions are humanitarian. I'm simply concerned for people who told me they are suffering... If you don't agree with war, that's your right. But you don't have to cuss me out on Facebook, or here, or anywhere else. Take that energy to do good for whatever cause you do believe in. There are veterans of other countries that need help, too. There are kids that need role models and loving homes. There are homeless people, puppies, and kittens all over the world that need food and shelter. What isn't needed is more negativity in the world.

P.S. I'm opening this one more time before I publish it. There's no reason I couldn't have had it posted at six in the morning. I've sat here staring at the computer screen until it's now eight. I'm having a hard time fighting my fears right now. So, if you're one of my faithful followers, don't be offended if I don't answer comments for a couple of days... If you don't see me around the internet for a little while... It's cool. I'm just crocheting... Healing. And I promise I'll publish this sometime... (Maybe I'll even share it on social media.)

...And one more thing: I said thank you to the veterans that inspired me to share my story. I forgot to say thank you to the crochet and craft community. You're all the nicest people I've never actually met.

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